Fall in the land of Amayra was always an explosion of color, both in the changing leaves and the splash of oranges, reds, and deep purples and blues that danced across the sky as the sun set. Despite the fading, late afternoon sunlight, a young Cat-Shifter moved across the rooftops with ease. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a figure limping along road below the house she was currently sitting on. He grunted with each step, and one hand clutched at his left side. Curious, she gripped the gutter in both hands. Her tail twitched with interest, and her large green eyes peered through the shadows as her ears perked up.
The shadowy figure passed right under Arnelle's nose; it and her large ears twitched as he continued down the road, swaying from side to side. Now that he was a little closer, the Shifter could see the arrow that protruded from his chest. Arnelle smiled as she launched herself from the roof and onto a barrel right next to the stranger.
Little did she know, the stranger had sensed as much as heard her following him. He could smell the blood as plainly as a handful of cinnamon held right near his nose. But up until now, he'd elected to ignore whatever it was. Maybe it would go away and leave him alone…
No such luck. Roaxon grumbled something unintelligible under his breath when the Shifter next to him opened her mouth to speak. "Hi!" she exclaimed. Roaxon turned toward her for a second. She saw then that he had messy black hair and a fine, angular face. He grimaced at her, and then continued on his way. Arnelle blinked, then shrugged and leaped to walk next to him for a few moments. Finally, she asked him, "What's your name?"
Roaxon looked at her again, grimacing. He turned abruptly and continued on his way.
If anything, this fueled Arnelle's desire to get under the stranger's skin. "Hey, Mister!" she called, starting to grin. This guy almost reminded her of her long-lost friend Etsen, back when they were little and he wanted her to go away. He'd never been able to resist her for long; this stranger wouldn't either. "What's your name? I'm Arnelle!" Roaxon turned and hissed at the red-haired Shifter, bearing twin inch-long fangs before turning around and continuing to stalk down the darkened road.
Arnelle giggled. He was just like Etsen. "Nice fangs, stranger! But I've seen worse." She continued to skip along next to him, easily dodging obstacles that randomly appeared before her—barrels or rain buckets or even the occasional pile of trash. "Why're you walking funny like that?"
Roaxon stopped. By this time, he was flabbergasted that the strange creature was still following him. He figured it was time he deigned to speak. "I've been shot," he said in a gruff, but not unpleasant voice. He moved his hand momentarily to expose the wound. The tip of the arrow still protruded from his flesh, and blood dripped down his fingers and clothes.
The tiny Shifter stared at the wound for a long minute then grinned. "I know a healer! He can fix you up, good as new!"
"No, thanks," Roaxon said. He turned away from her, hoping to march on. But his knees buckled, and he cursed as he found the ground.
Arnelle grabbed his arm. "Come on, you need help!" She proceeded to tug on him for a few seconds, ignoring the stranger's preference to remain where he was.
"Fuck…You…" Roaxon panted. His side screamed even as she tugged the arm opposite the wound.
"Fine!" She released his arm, failing to look as annoyed as she sounded. "You don't want to go to my healer friend; I'll bring him to you!" She leapt back to the roof and called down to him, "Don't go anywhere!"
As soon as she was gone, Roaxon attempted to stand, hoping he could be far away by the time she returned. However, he stood too suddenly, and all the blood rushed from his head to any number of less useful places. He collapsed face first into the cobblestones. And he was there still, sprawled in the middle of the street, when Arnelle returned, dragging a young brown-haired boy along with her. The boy had a long-suffering look of patience on his face, despite the fact that he appeared to be a great deal younger than the Shifter.
"Good!" Arnelle exclaimed when she saw the stranger hadn't moved. "He didn't run away!"
The boy stared at her. "Shut up, Arnelle," he said, albeit gently as he brushed a stray strand of dark brown hair out of his face. "He didn't run away because he's unconscious, and if you want me to help him, I need quiet. Understand?" Arnelle nodded happily, having not heard a word the boy said other than "quiet."
Roaxon's eyes scrunched and then cracked open as he regained consciousness slowly. The first thing he noticed was that the rays of the rising sun were just starting to touch the tips of his black leather gloves. With a scream, he scrambled to his feet and flattened himself against the wall, under the eaves of the nearby building. Panting heavily, he eyed the patch of sunlight with terror, his mind reeling with the ramifications of his situation.
"Drat," Cri cursed softly under his breath, watching from across the road. "I knew we should've moved him..."
"What? It's…" Roaxon sputtered. "Why is it morning already?!"
Cri grinned slightly and trotted across the road to stand between the stranger he'd healed the night before and the sunlight. "Yes, it's morning. What did you expect? I spent hours last night healing that arrow wound of yours."
"You… did… what?" Roaxon stared at the pint-sized kid with flame-orange eyes in front of him, and then looking down to where there arrow had been. Sure enough, the wound was practically gone. Only a small scrape showed where it had been the night before.
"Sorry I couldn't do more," the boy told him softly. "But if I had, you wouldn't have been able to move this morning. As it is, the muscles there will take some time to regain their full strength, but at least you won't be walking around with half an arrow sticking out of your chest."
"Yeah, well, I guess I owe…" Roaxon started, but then he realized the sunlight had progressed a little further. Now it just brushed the edge of his black coat. "Y'ah! Gods be cursed! I can't be here right now!"
"What do you need?" the young healer asked. "I'm sure Arnelle could get it for you, seeing as how it's her fault you're here…" He glared up at the roof above their heads, directly at a pair of green cat eyes that scowled back at him for a few seconds before vanishing.
"Need?" Roaxon snapped. "I don't need anything—not from you."
"Don't get cranky with me," Cri growled, sounding far older than his appearance suggested. Keeping up that illusion, he planted his feet in the ground, crossed his arms, and glared at the man sprawled on the ground in front of him.
"What did you say, kid?" Roaxon almost laughed. "Are you trying to tell me not to be cranky? I have every right to be cranky. And do you know what? I am!"
"I'm going to guess some sort of vampire or nightwalker," Cri answered, oblivious to the stranger's actual meaning. "In which case, you need to get out of the sun. However, unless you want to sit there and be toast in a couple of hours, you'll stop being an asshole and accept the help that I'm offering." Cri's fingers trembled visibly, and his crossed arms suddenly looked less stubborn and more defensive; the only thing that didn't change was his glare. He kept that trained on the nightwalker. "And besides, you don't scare me. Not after what I've been through."
Roaxon glared insolently at the boy in return, although he was a little confused by the change in his posture. This continued for some time, until Roaxon felt the warmth of the swiftly-rising morning sun brush his elbow. He retreated several feet. "Fine, fine!" he finally shouted, realizing how stupid he was being.
Cri smiled. "Good. Arnelle will bring you the thickest cloak we can find, unless there's something else we need to do?" he asked the nightwalker as Arnelle took off across the rooftops in the direction of the town's marketplace.
"That'll be fine..." Roaxon grumbled. "And could you hurry?"
The boy gave no answer. Instead, he tilted his head slightly as though listening for something only he could hear. "She should be coming back anytime now," Cri said a short while later with a sigh. "If she takes much longer, I could go for a blanket or something." Even as he spoke, a red-haired figure appeared in the distance, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, a black cloak streaming from her hand as she waved it. Cri winced when he heard the guard alarms following her. "Damn it, Arnelle..." he growled as she came closer.
Roaxon smirked. "Your friend is a bit of a troublemaker, huh?"
Cri sighed, running a hand over his face. "She is, at that," he grumbled, "but I wouldn't call her a friend per se..."
"She's pretty friendly," Roaxon said. "Disgustingly so…"
"I wouldn't go that far..." Cri retorted, but he could not keep from grinning. "Although I do admit she can be creepily social on occasion. But I haven't known her long, and she says, when she has a sober moment, that there's someone who can actually tone her down a little." He sighed again as the same green eyes peeked over the roof at them.
"Here you go, Cri," she whispered, holding the piece of black cloth down to him.
Cri didn't take it. Instead, he only glared at her. "You stole it!"
"I don't care!" Roaxon replied, scooting another few feet away from the sunlight. "Just give it here!"
Arnelle shrugged and tossed it down to him before telling Cri, "I said I'd pay them later, that it was an emergency. The shopkeeper didn't believe me, so I took it." She looked over her shoulder, seeming to only just then notice of the sounds of pursuit. "Oops." Roaxon donned the cloak, wrapping himself as heavily in the hood as he could manage.
"Well, uhm… thanks, I guess," he said, the cloak wrapped tightly around him to conceal him from the sun. Cri stared after him as he left, eyes brimming with concern. The nightwalker ignored him. "Well there's an experience I never want to repeat," Roaxon grumbled to himself as he made his way down the road. "I need to have some fun. Maybe I'll go to a church, freak everyone out…"
Arnelle could not remain still. She grinned at Cri, and jumped to the roof again, taking off after the stranger. "W-where are you going?" Cri shouted after her, surprised and more than a little suspicious. As she disappeared around a corner, he knew he should follow as well.
It took her a while, but eventually Arnelle found him in a smoky tavern. He was still huddled under his cloak despite the dankness. "There you are, stranger!"
"God damn it!" he snarled; he recoiled from the sound of her voice equally as violently as he had from the sunlight just a few hours before. "Why won't you leave me the fuck alone?"
"You never told me your name!" she said, smiling still.
"If you just tell her your name, she'll leave you alone," came yet another familiar and yet utterly unwanted voice from the doorway.
"Both of you…?"
"Sorry for following you," the boy said, grinning sheepishly, "but she won't give up, and I wanted to make sure there were no side effects of the healing or the sun."
"Why does God hate me?" Roaxon whimpered, crumpling into his arms. "Am I not one of His creatures?"
"God?" Cri asked, tilting his head to one side. "Who's God?"
Arnelle giggled, waving one hand in the air. "Oh, oh, I know!" Roaxon only rubbed his temples, contemplating whether he had the strength to drive his claw-tipped fingers through his own skull. He did his best to ignore the bouncing and giggling Cat-Shifter at his elbow, but that was becoming more and more impossible the longer she stood there. 'Maybe…' He scratched his forehead with one claw. 'Maybe it would work.'
Cri seemed to have read his mind. "I wouldn't try it. You'd just give yourself a headache, and I'd have to heal you again." He glared at Arnelle and told her, "The guy's about to kill someone. Couldn't you find someone else to annoy for a little?"
She sighed, gave him a look of utter disappointment, and left.
Once she was gone, Cri sat next to Roaxon at the bar and ordered a glass of milk. The serving girl delivered it almost immediately. He took a solemn drink from it. "How have you not killed her yet?" Roaxon asked offhandedly, studying the boy with deep red eyes.
"Sometimes I wonder that myself, but she did save me..." Cri shuddered, drained his milk, and set the glass back on the table with a thunk. "Were it not for her, I would probably be dead right now... Meaning," he added, deciding to preempt his table companion's snarky comment, "that you would be, too."
Roaxon sighed. "I guess you're right. Barkeep, one more!"
Cri grinned at the serving girl as she brought the nightwalker another mug of ale and set a larger glass of milk in front of him. After taking a smaller sip and wiping his face with his sleeve, he glanced over at his companion. "I'm surprised you haven't asked me any questions. Even antisocial people tend to respond when they hear how I met Arnelle."
Roaxon turned his head to glance at the young boy, and then took a huge swig of his drink. "I don't give a fuck."
Cri quickly hid the look of relief that flashed across his face, but Roaxon noticed it out of the corner of his eye. After a moment, he shrugged and decided to ignore it for now. "Probably a good thing," the boy muttered after a while. "It's not a fun story, anyway."
"Is it any worse than the torment I've endured today?"
Cri shivered hard enough that he almost knocked his glass over. "Yes," he whispered, his eyes dark.
"Kid, free bit of advice," Roaxon said, oblivious, for the most part, to the extremity of Cri's reaction. "At your age, there's nothing that's really all that bad."
Cri stared at the man for a spell. "Someone of my age?" he asked softly, once again sounding like someone many years older than his features suggested. His eyes, too, took on a faraway, old expression. "'Nothing that's really that bad'?" He laughed bitterly, resting his forehead in his hands. "So I'm guessing you wouldn't think watching your father's murder, being kidnapped, held in an underground fighting arena, forced to watch your friends fight to kill each other, and then be forced to heal them until you're nearly dead yourself just so they can keep doing it is not that bad? Especially since the fighters had no will of their own… They left me mine, because they knew they could control me…"
His small body shook violently, but he wasn't crying. His voice was thin when he spoke next, "Every time I refused, and there were times when my skills wouldn't be of any use to anyone, they would... I couldn't heal myself anymore, let alone someone else, and they kept making me!"
Roaxon turned to the boy. Genuine sadness flashed across his eyes but only for a second. He stared at Cri for a time, and then said simply, "Well, shit," before taking a huge swig of ale.
"Oh, and if you're wondering how old I am, since you mentioned it before," Cri added, looking up at his companion through his fingers. "I'm about six hundred."
"Huh." Roaxon drained the last of his mug and studied the other patrons of the small bar. Most of them looked away nervously upon meeting the nightwalker's gaze, or they just avoided looking at him entirely. "Damn, I'm hungry," he muttered. Cri grinned, once again appearing as a normal fourteen-year old boy. "My name is Roaxon, by the way," the nightwalker said, smiling almost genuinely for the first time since Cri had met him.
"Cri," the boy responded. "And Arnelle is going to kill me when she realizes she isn't the one that first learned your name. She's weird like that."
"Weird, indeed," Roaxon muttered. "Look, I'm gonna find some place to hole up for the day. If you want to hang around, you can find me come nightfall, though if you'd rather keep your distance… well, can't say as I'd blame you."
"Honestly, I almost prefer you to Arnelle… She scares me sometimes, but I don't know if we'll still be here by nightfall."
"It's up to you," Roaxon said, standing up. "But I suppose it's only fair warning: I'm not a safe person to be around."
"I understand that," Cri answered. "After all, I'm not a kid by most standards. Either way, I think she wants to go find her friend—the one who can keep her at least marginally sane—and I need to find my sister… Or just wander around until she finds me." Roaxon nodded and left the bar; his frame filled the entire door as he left, terrifying a patron who was attempting to enter.
Cri sat at his table for a while longer, ignoring Arnelle when she finally poked her nose around again. Although he was surprised she hadn't tried to get his attention or anything. He hadn't told his story in quite that fashion ever before.
Later that evening, Arnelle, shrouded in a cloak, left the town. Cri hovered overhead, his dark orange wings blending into the night. For a moment, he hesitated at the edge of town, but then he simply called a quiet farewell to Roaxon before banking swiftly and flying away from the rising moon.